NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – High School Friday Night Football is back for another season. KRQE’s Sports Director Van Tate and KRQE’s Sports Weekend anchor/reporter Jared Chester will talk to some first-year coaches, teams in southeastern New Mexico, and take a look at all of the contenders heading into 2023.

La Cueva High School

Head football coach Brandon Back says he likes the mentality his team has coming into this season. “It’s important to look back at those things and see what you can do better. You know, it’s always disgusting when you give up 72 points and you are not a basketball coach. So, that sucks, but last year was last year and this year is a whole new group and a whole new year and really what we are focusing on is being better today than we were yesterday,” said Back.

La Cueva feels confident on the defensive side of the ball as they return a lot of starters. But the same can’t be said for the offense side. A lot of the key players like Aiden Armenta graduated.

The Bears are optimistic and feel that junior quarterback Cameron Dyer will get the job done. “Aiden is a great pocket passer and he throws the ball really well Cam throws the ball really well too. But Cam has the ability to stretch the pocket and move. So we are excited about what he can do as a quarterback. He has been waiting for this opportunity,” said Back.

La Cueva will open their season by hosting Rio Rancho on Friday, August 18 at 7 p.m.

Centennial High School

More schools that will contend for a championship are the Centennial Hawks. They made it to the semifinals last season but lost to La Cueva. The Hawks are ready to attack in 2023. “It’s a new year every year. It’s a new journey. It’s a new team. Never in high school football do you return to the same team. So, these guys have their own story to write this year,” said Aaron Ocamp, Centennial’s head football coach. “We have a new mindset every year, new year, new us. We learned a lot of valuable lessons last year but I’m really focused on the season and going out there.”

The Hawks open their season hosting defending champ Cleveland High School on August 19, at 7 p.m.

West Mesa High School

Elijah Brody had his opening act as a quarterback for West Mesa last season with his dad Landrick Broady running the show. The Mustangs finished with an even 5-5 record last season, 2-2 in the district and fell short of reaching the postseason.

During the offseason, Brody attended a few champs working on his craft and he is excited to unleash his knowledge. He’s also looking forward to taking advantage of his weapons as a receiver. “We definitely had a three-headed monster with Chris Jinzo, Chris Johnson and Robert Ramirez last year. But, we got some good guys that are coming in this new year and have been working this spring and really look like they are going to be able to hold their own out there,” said Elijah Brody.

West Mesa will open the season against Santa Fe High School on August 18 at 7 p.m.

Rio Grande High School

The Rio Grande Ravens struggled to win two games against seven losses last season. A former Lobo and Duke City Gladiator, Christopher Smalls, has now stepped up to coach the team. He’s only been the head coach for less than a month before the season starts, but he hopes to bring new life into the program. “The real big challenge is just getting athletes out here. The second biggest challenge is getting assistant coaches in here,” said Smalls.

While Smalls tries to fill an assistant coaching staff, he plans to rely on veteran leadership from upperclassmen to help guide an inexperienced team. Quarterback Joaquin Tafoya is one of those leaders. “Got to come change the atmosphere, that’s for really what it was. You know, these kids, not too much of a winning team, not the mentality of like oh yeah we’re winners. Come change it around, come change this program around. Make these kids winners. Get Rio Grande’s name back out there,” said Tafoya.

The Ravens will start the season on August 18 against Albuquerque Academy at 7 p.m.

Hobbs High School

While every team is hungry for a title, the Hobbs Eagles are coming off their best season in over 20 years. The team is looking to hoist the blue trophy for the first time since 1972.

The Eagles believe they have a team capable of making that a reality. “We’re going to be pretty big and pretty sized up front on both sides of the ball. We got a good group of big men up there that we’re excited about and excited to see them play. Football games are won and lost up front. They don’t get much of the credit and much of the glory but that’s where it’s at so you better be good up front both defensively and offensively if you’re going to be successful,” said Ken Stevens, Hobbs head football coach.

Hobbs opens the season at Clovis on August 19 at 7 p.m.

Organ Mountain High School

Organ Mountain is taking the field with a new head coach this season. Kenny Sanchez is the new head coach and has one of the most impressive high school coaching resumes.

Sanchez is a two-time national champion and was named the 2016 National Coach of the Year during his time with Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is now with a program that has not made the playoffs since 2016. “I don’t think the recipe for success changes state by state or what. I mean it always helps when you have a lot of talent, it helps you look like a better coach. I mean I know it’s not the fancy, great answer that everybody wants but that’s just the truth. Right now we’re going to focus on the little things. I think if you focus on the big picture right away, then you’ll never get to where you want to be,” said Kenny Sanchez.

Organ Mountains opens on the road against Albuquerque High School Friday, August 19.

Artesia High School

Artesia head coach Jeremy Maupin told KRQE about his relentless pursuit is the team’s slogan. Last year, the team won the state title. Which makes 31 state titles for the Artesia Bulldogs. Coach Maupin says even though many of the team’s players returned this season, going back-to-back is never an easy task. “You know I told these guys, I said everybody always wants to beat you but after a championship here it always seems to just be a little bit heightened. The hardest thing to do but also one of the finest things to do is to repeat as champions. So, that’s what we are out to do this year,” said Maupin.

The Bulldogs start their season at Carlsbad on August 19 at 7 p.m.

Roswell High School

Coming off of a loss in the state semi-finals, expectations are even higher for the Roswell Coyotes because their roster is jam-packed with seniors. They believe a state trophy is theirs for the taking. “Yeah, I mean we will put it out there we want to win a blue trophy. I mean, we have everything that we need to win a state championship,” said Jeff Lynn, Roswell’s head coach. “You know, the way that this team has worked and the way this team is mentally I really feel like you know, we should be there at the end playing for a blue trophy.”

Roswell will play at Lovington on August 19 at 7 p.m.

Goddard High School

The Goddard Rockets saw 23 seniors graduate last year. Coming into 2023, they only have 12 seniors. But while they may lack some depth they are still feeling confident. “You know we don’t have a whole bunch of guys but the guys that come out here and do it I mean you have to respect it,” said Chris White, Goddard’s head football coach. “You know we don’t have a whole bunch of guys but the guys that come out here and do it I mean you have to respect it.”

Goddard will host Santa Theresa on August 19 at 7 p.m.

Valley High School

The Valley Vikings are hoping there is strength in numbers because, for the first time ever, they have 100 kids in their program. This increased interest comes after the Vikings won a total of eight games last year. That was more than the previous two seasons combined. Billy Cobos started his coaching tenure strong and believes the players are buying into the culture even more.

“The team is coming into the season with confidence. We have to be able to maintain that confidence this season, and you know maybe we can go 12-0,” said Cobos. “We are used to our staff, we are used to our players, we are not going through any drastic changes anymore. So, I feel like we absolutely have what we need to get there. I have been here for 16 years and I compare it to that 2013 team with Bo Coleman. We have those tools in place to make a successful run. That Blue Trophy is the ultimate goal and we think we can get there but believe and work hard is what we need to do.”

The Vikings open their season at Bernalillo on August 17 at 7 p.m.

Ruidoso High School

In Class 3A, Ruidoso will look to repeat as state champions. However, the Warriors will have a new leader in their program. Coach Kief Johnson picked up a career milestone in victories last season with the Warriors and let them to a Class 3A championship before deciding to retire. His replacement, Greg Crow, hopes to continue to build off of what was a 12-1 season for the Warriors last year. “Yeah I have a few guys coming back in some key positions, but I also have a lot of positions where some guys can earn some spots through hard work and effort. Those guys know what kind of tradition they have to protect, what comes before them, how hard those guys had to work, so those guys have dove into the transition wonderfully,” said Crow

The Warriors will open the season at Gadsden on August 19 at 7 p.m.

Estancia High School

The Estancia Bears won six games and lost five last season. The Bears haven’t been to a Class 2A championship game since winning it all with a perfect 13-0 record in 2015. Bears head coach Stewart Burnett believes his team will be stronger this year and is just now getting full strength since COVID hit the scene in 2019. “I feel like everybody has dealt with trying to put pieces back together from COVID and those effects have just lingered and lingered. But, I feel like we’re finally, really, truly back. I felt that way last year, having our kids out there every day able to work and get better,” said Burnett.

Estancia will host Texico on August 20 at 2 p.m.

Gateway Christian School

Gateway Christian School won a second consecutive state title last year. Now heading into his 21st year as head coach Shaun Wigley is feeling confident once again. While they only have one senior, the Warriors have a stacked junior class and depth that they have never seen before. Well in comparison to other seasons, I can think of a time when we were in 8-man, where we played the whole season with 12. So, comparatively in 6-man with 21 kids that is huge,” said Wigley.

Gateway Christain will open their season on August 25 against Carizozo.